Where Purpose Meets Content

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SWBAT analyze character behavior for purpose and make connections to real life by engaging in discussion.

Big Idea

Why learn what we learn? Purpose and content are related.

Do Now: What's Education Good For?

25 minutes

To start our day (and our week), I tap into my class's most recent interest: discussion of social issues. I know this will grab their attention, setting us up for success for the rest of the lesson.

First, I ask students to reflect (and prepare) individually through writing to answer the question, what is education good for?

Since students are very familiar with education, they have a lot to write. I give them 5 minutes and then call them back for discussion. As usual, they run their own discussion, calling on one another with an emphasis on hearing from a wide variety of people (they are quite good at this and get excited when new people volunteer). Students consider:

  • common requirements for diverse learners
  • whether college is the answer for every student
  • vocational education
  • tracking
  • international education
  • online learning
  • dual enrollment through community colleges
  • economic connections between education and careers

While students could likely keep their discussion going further, I pull them back so we can connect to our class text, A Lesson Before Dying.

Discussing the Purpose of Segregation-era Education

25 minutes

In our non-fiction work during this unit, we've been studying the purpose of texts. The ramifications of purpose, though, go far beyond a text. Purpose matters in day to day life; if we do not understand WHY people behave as they do, we may not fully understand their actions or their relation to ourselves. So far today, we've discussed the general purpose of education--now I want to narrow our focus to education in A Lesson Before Dying.

First, I ask a few basic knowledge questions so we're all on the same page with content:

  • Describe Grant's school.
  • How does Grant treat his students?
  • Why are there few older students?
  • What does the county superintendent check when he visits?

Next, we delve into purpose. I ask, what purpose does Grant see in education?

"None, really--he's not very encouraging to his students."

"They [students] don't get to do much with their lives, so it doesn't really matter."

What purpose does the superintendent see in education for these students?

Here, I first encounter silence, perhaps because the answers aren't nice. Then:

"Well, he checks their teeth--it's kinda like they are still slaves."

"Yeah, you check animal teeth like that."

"And he doesn't really care about what they learn..."

Again, I ask about his purpose.

"To train them to be clean, quiet workers."

Do you think the students knew that was the purpose?



"Grant describes them as defeated."

We talk more broadly about the impact of purpose on an "audience," how expectations matter. Maybe students today don't have it so bad after all.


For homework, I ask students to read chapters 9-10 and see how Jefferson is doing in jail. Is he learning how to be a man?